Wake me up when Michael Vick is a football story again, OK? I understand that his home address was Leavenworth Prison up until a few months ago. As a societal/redemption/personal story, his being back on an NFL field this weekend for the first time since December 2006 is worth noting.
But having watched him struggle mightily against the New York Jets scrubs in the second half of the Eagles’ final preseason game, he’s weeks, maybe months away from being any kind of factor in whether the Eagles actually win or lose games.
Schottenheimer: Sanchez unleashed
Last Sunday against the Patriots, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez attempted five first-half passes, hitting three of them for a whopping 15 yards. After halftime, Sanchez went 11-for-17 for 148 yards and a touchdown and the Jets won 16-9.
So the Jets kept the kid handcuffed in the first half, right? Then they let him loose?
Not so, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told us.
“The limited plays (in the first half) made it look like we were being conservative which we really weren’t. Some of it was situation, some of it was down and distance, some of it was field position.”
Sanchez has had a pretty good NFL baptism through two weeks. A rocking-chair win over the Texans in which he just had to let the Jets defense do the damage and now a tension-filled win over New England when he had to make plays in the second half. This weekend, another great test awaits with the 0-2 Titans coming into New York in a bad mood.
”He’s the starting quarterback of our football team and he’s a damn good football player,” said Schottenheimer. “We’re gonna play to his strengths, but we’re not going to put our football team in bad situations. Lets face it, we have a very good defense. We can play a certain way offensively because of that.
“We know the (Titans) are just as good as they were last year,” he added. “They still create problems with matchups they have up front. They’re going to commit to stop the run on first down and try to get you in passing situations so they can turn (defensive ends Kyle) Vanden Bosch and (Jevon) Kearse and all those guys loose on the quarterback. We’ve played them the last three years. This is the first time we get to play them at home. We feel like we know a lot about them.”
Niners are climbers
It’s fraud identification time in the NFL. Every year, a few teams open with enough flash and sizzle to make it seem as if that they’ve finally figured it out. Within a few weeks, those teams return to earth leaving a two-mile crater and ticked off analysts wondering how they could have ever bought in. (Recent instances of this phenomenon: 2008 Bills, Jets and Redskins, most Cowboys teams of recent vintage).
Through two weeks, nine teams have started 2-0. The ones inviting the most suspicion are the Broncos and 49ers. Denver’s start reeks of phoniness. This is a team that finished 30th in the NFL last season in points allowed (448). This year, they’ve allowed one touchdown in eight quarters. Good for them, but there’s some self-correction that’s going to occur there.
The Niners are a different story. Their two wins — at Arizona and vs. Seattle — weren’t against the “iron” but when you couple those with the 4-1 close San Fran had last season, you’re looking at a team that’s 6-1 in its past seven games under Mike Singletary.
This week, they visit the Vikings in what is an excellent checkpoint game for seeing what the Niners are really about.
San Francisco is not glamorous. Smart, disciplined defense, good special teams and a conservative, “take what’s there” offense are what’s getting it done on the field. But the tone Singletary’s brought, really since the day he was hired, has made the difference. He’s given the team direction.
Asked this week what the biggest change he’s seen since being hired, Singletary said, “I think getting everybody on the same page and having everybody understand that, ‘This is the goal, this is our identity. This is our formula. This is where I fit in that formula. If we can do this, then we’re going to have a good result.’ I think everybody understanding it from the top down, understanding what the identity is, what the formula is, what my job is, how do I fit into that and going forward with that."
The Niners didn’t make wholesale offseason changes. When Singletary went from interim coach to head coach this offseason, he and GM Scot McLoughan agreed not much change needed to be made to the roster. There was a reasonable amount of talent there. It needed direction.
But two other issues have also helped galvanize the team. First was the quarterback competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick. The franchise has poured a lot of money into Smith. On a business level, it would make sense for them to want to prop Smith up and give him the benefit of the doubt A) because of the investment and B) because the image of him watching from the sidelines is confirmation that it was a pick gone bad.
But even though Smith performed pretty well in the preseason, the benefit of the doubt went to Hill because he has proven to be the more consistently efficient player.
When a team sees that the best man plays — regardless of draft or contract status — that makes a difference, especially to younger players trying to fight their way up the depth chart.
The other issue is Michael Crabtree. The ongoing holdout by the 10th overall pick is barely a blip on the team’s radar. It’s been rendered a satellite issue between the player and the front office. The fact Crabtree was hurt and unable to take part in offseason workouts also meant he didn’t establish an identity as a player. That’s made it easier for the rest of the Niners to merely shrug at his absence. There’s no ongoing string of quotes from teammates about how much the team needs Crabtree or whether he’s being selfish. It’s not part of their program.
All this doesn’t mean the Niners are now an NFL power. They may get their collective heads caved in by Minnesota on Sunday. But even if that does happen, there’s plenty to indicate this team is the real thing.
ProFootballTalk: Patriots QB Tom Brady addressed Wes Welker’s decision to head West to Denver. Brady says he isn’t surprised by anything after being in the league for so long and hopes that Welker has a great season with the Broncos.
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